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The Master and Mar-a-Lago

Seldom have art and politics intersected as powerfully – or as painfully – as they have in the legacy of the composer Richard Wagner. By appealing to myth as a substitute for waning religious sentiment, Wagner's greatest works have provided an ideal soundtrack for political irrationalism.

PARIS – The list of musicians who opposed Donald Trump’s use of their songs at his rallies during his failed 2020 election campaign is almost as long as the playlist itself. Artists and bands such as The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Neil Young, Linkin Park, Phil Collins, the Village People, Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, Pharrell Williams, Aerosmith, Adele, Queen, and R.E.M. all publicly condemned Trump’s use of their music, with some issuing cease-and-desist orders to make him stop. The estates of Tom Petty, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Luciano Pavarotti, and others protested as well. But it was all to no avail.

Of all those on the Trump campaign’s publicly available Spotify playlist, only one musician publicly endorsed the campaign’s use of his music: the country artist Lee Greenwood. His song “God Bless the USA” often served as Trump’s walk-up anthem, and was sometimes performed live by Greenwood himself.

The Trump campaign’s choice of artists was in tune with the man’s nostalgic vision of making America “great again,” in the sense that it was overwhelmingly white and dated from the last century. By contrast, President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign playlist had a perfect 50/50 split between white and black artists, and featured walk-on songs like Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” which was meant to underscore the candidate’s blue-collar credentials.

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